Friday, February 10, 2017

Nonfiction Picture Book - 10 for 10




This year, I have chosen ten picture books that tell about the lives of musicians. Music is such an important part of our lives, and the artists that create the tunes that lift our spirits sometimes face daunting challenges in order to spread their joy and set our toes tapping. I wish I could choose more than ten, but here is my list of great books that celebrate music and musicians:

This is a great nonfiction picture book biography that tells readers about the life of George Gershwin and how he developed as a musician to create famous pieces, such as Rhapsody In Blue. This very well researched book pulls readers into the jazz scene of the 1920s and the ideas in George's head to create sounds and rhythms that had never been used before in popular music. The colorful and creative hand lettering along with the beautiful paintings add to the creative spirit of the book. Reading it really put me in the mood to go back and explore some of the famous songs that George and his brother, Ira, created!

This inspiring nonfiction picture book tells the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay. "A town built on a landfill. A community in need of hope. A girl with a dream. A man with a vision. An ingenious idea." This book really captures the meaning of a growth mindset. The illustrations were created "from a hybrid technique of collage, acrylic glazes and paints, drawings, and digital mediums, then executed on stipple paper." I definitely need to get this book for my classroom library!  

This nonfiction picture book written in verse is an awesome resource for fans of jazz or anyone who would just like to learn more about the great musicians of this time. This book tells the story Art Kane's famous 1958 photograph for Esquire magazine. A special issue was being planned focusing on American jazz. Kane decided to gather as many jazz musicians as he could to pose for this picture in front of a Harlem brownstone building. The rhythm of the poetry along with the beautiful illustrations make this book an excellent resource. You can almost hear the music as you're reading. I definitely want to get my own copy of this book! 

This is such an inspiring story of a young man growing up in New Orleans. Music was so important in his family and as a child he would make his own musical instruments so he could play with his brother (a trumpet player). When he found an old, discarded trombone he marched out in a Mardi Gras parade with it. The trombone was twice his size, so he earned the nickname "Trombone Shorty". Collier's illustrations, which are a mix of paintings and collage, are beautiful and really capture how special these times were to the author.

This picture book biography has good information for young readers about the life of one of the most famous gospel singers. The language is accessible and a great starting point for further research, especially with a timeline and tips for learning more. The paintings that accompany the text are just beautiful.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I've always been a big fan of Johnny and June Cash. So this book captured my interest right away. The text, written in verse, takes us from Johnny Cash's young childhood (when he was called J.R.) through his start in music, his time in the Army, and his later years. The book takes a look at the rough times his family experienced through the Depression, the Great Flood of 1937, and his older brother's death. The book touches on Johnny Cash's battle with addiction in the notes at the end of the book, but it doesn't dwell on that aspect of his life. The paintings by A. G. Ford are absolutely gorgeous and are a fitting tribute to this legendary country singer. I'm not sure how many of my students are familiar with Johnny Cash or whether they're interested. I'm anxious to see what they think of this book. 

 I've always enjoyed reading and learning about the music and entertainment of the early twentieth century - imagining the flappers of the Roaring Twenties dancing the Charleston in Paris. So I was eager to read this book about the life of Josephine Baker. I loved it!

Right after the title page, is a page with this quote:

"I shall dance all my life....
I would like to die, breathless,
spent, at the end of a dance."
- Josephine Baker, 1927

The next page ends with, "America wasn't ready for Josephine, the colored superstar. PARIS WAS."

This biography, with stunning illustrations, takes us from Josephine's difficult childhood in St. Louis, through her hard work and determination to perform on vaudeville stages, to her arrival on Broadway. All throughout this story, you're faced with the sad reality of racial inequality and segregation. She couldn't enter through the front doors of the theaters in which she performed.

When she finally traveled across the Atlantic to France, she encountered a completely different world. The story takes readers through her rise to success abroad and her return to America. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of black people here.

This is an awesome biography. It definitely makes me want to learn even more about Josephine Baker's life. The author has included a good list of resources for readers who want to continue reading about her life.

This was a beautiful story about a man playing a violin in a train station. A little boy and his mom are walking when the boy wants to stop and listen to the music. His mother is in a hurry and doesn't even notice the violinist. Very striking message about literally stopping to hear the music. Loved it! 

The text & illustrations do a fantastic job of introducing Mary Lou Williams, a jazz musician. I learned quite a bit about this woman and feel inspired to find some of her music and listen to it. 

This picture book is a fascinating exploration of the music form known as the blues. The poetry of the blues tells the stories of the African American experience. Some of the blues are sad, but some of them express joy, love, and hope. Walter Dean Myers' poetry in this book could serve as a great mentor text as students could write their own blues. The illustrations by the author's son, Christopher Myers, are simply beautiful. According to the title page, the artwork was created with blue ink, white paint, and brown paper bags. I would love to have a copy of this in my classroom library! 


  1. I love biographies too but each of these are new to me. Thank you for joining us and I can't wait to share your collection with my music teacher and add some titles to my room.

  2. Great theme! As I went through your list of books, it made perfect sense to put all of these together!

  3. Wonderful to see these all together. I know most, and they are wonderful. Will look for Blues Journey, Jana. Thanks!

  4. This is a wonderful theme. And it's fascinating to see the different ways the authors try to pin the experience of music to the page. The Music in George's Head had fantastic onomatopoeia, but the Johnny Cash book relied on lyrics. It would be fascinating to see how kids wrote about music after reading these.